Book Review: Benjamin Franklin and the American Revolution

The University of Nebraska Press was so wonderful as to send me a copy of the recently released Benjamin Franklin and the American Revoultion by Jonathan R. Dull.  I read it over my trip to see the family a few months ago but haven’t had a chance to sit down and discuss it.

It took awhile for the book to sit well with me.  Dull’s writing is fast paced and easy to follow, but his portrayal of Benjamin Franklin is far from the usual image.  We typically see Franklin as the “affable old grandfather” of the nation, and Dull takes a major departure from this.  I wouldn’t go so far as to call him a “rebel” like the author does, but the text’s close focus on the war years of Franklin’s life does bring to light a side of the American hero that hasn’t been examined before.

Throughout the book, it was obvious that Franklin was bad, inexperienced, or out of his league at diplomacy.  That’s not so great when it was his primary role during the American Revolution.  By the end of the book, I still hadn’t decided if Dull intentionally painted Franklin as such or it was an unfortunate side effect of trying to emphasize how difficult a task Franklin had in Europe.  I would suggest that maybe American diplomats weren’t respected yet on the international scene as an explanation for Franklin’s troubles, but the author’s points about his double aims in government suggest otherwise.

The author has worked extensively with Franklin’s papers and relies on his letters as evidence for most of the book.  He doesn’t quote him very much, however, and I would have like to hear Franklin’s voice come out in the text more.

Whether or not you like the book or agree with Dull’s conclusions, the point is to challenge pre-conceived ideas about Franklin’s life and his contribution to early American history.  I think he’s done that while still illustrating how dedicated Benjamin Franklin was to the colonial cause.  That’s not easy to do.  Check it out and see what you think.


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